By MORGAN GIBSON
UPPER MARLBORO (April 01, 2010)—Boots with blue jeans and suits with ties gathered over donuts Thursday morning to discuss the issues facing Maryland's farmers.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with more than 50 members of the state's agriculture industry, including Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance, to hear concerns and answer questions.
"Sometimes people forget how vibrant our farm community is," Hoyer said during the "listening session" at the Prince George's County Soil Conservation District Offices.
The Marylanders in attendance commended the discussion, and appreciated the attention paid to agriculture's woes.
"This type of a format is very positive for Maryland farmers and farming as a whole," said Chip Bowling, a third-generation Charles County grain farmer and president of Maryland Gain Producers. "Our congressmen and senators need to hear...and see and listen to some of the issues we face."
The farmers brought up various concerns, such as the estate tax, which impedes their ability to pass their farms down to future generations.
Environmental regulations imposed on farmers to keep fertilizer and manure from polluting the Chesapeake Bay also were a hot topic.
Bowling said most of his costs come from regulations like fertilizer management, erosion control and grass water ways.
"All of those things are a daily task for me. We spend almost as much time on paperwork and making sure we have the right...permits to do the farming we need to do," Bowling said. "It's a big deal for me."
Hance, who is a corn, wheat, and soybean grower in Calvert County, said farmers have adopted those environmental safety practices for decades, and now it's time for others to work on being environmentally friendly.
"It's going to take all of us working together to clean up the Chesapeake Bay—no one segment of our community can clean up the bay," Hance said. "Agriculture's done a good job of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and there are other sectors that have not done so well."
Maryland is not the only state to host one of these discussions. Vilsack has been going around the country for several months, learning from farmers state to state about the variety of issues they face.
One of the biggest problems Vilsack mentioned is the decline in the farming industry across the country. Vilsack said that when he was growing up, 15 percent of the American population farmed. Now that number is down to 1 percent.
"We have got to pay attention to the condition of rural America," Vilsack said at the discussion.
In Maryland, agriculture is the single largest land use and takes up more than 2 million acres, or roughly 33 percent of the state's total land area, said a news release from Hoyer.
"The farming community is an extraordinarily important part of our community," Hoyer said at the roundtable discussion. "It's not quite the economic engine of our state that it once was, but culturally, historically and in terms of quality of life it is a central part."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.